Can you believe the branding?
How can you tell if the product you are buying is genuine? David Dunn of Toshiba Air Conditioning discusses a concerning trend for the market’s premium brands, and warns buyers to beware.
The issue of inferior products masquerading as the real McCoy is long-standing and well-known in the consumer market. However, on the basis of recent evidence, it is now also becoming a problem in the building-services sector.
For Toshiba the issue first came to light about three years ago when we began getting distress service calls from end users whose equipment had failed or which was not performing to specification.
We were receiving perhaps two or three such calls a week. Last summer, this had escalated to the point where we were receiving more calls each day about non-Toshiba equipment than our own.
On one particularly infamous day, we received over 70 such calls.
Just managing this volume of traffic and logging and identifying whether calls are valid or not becomes a resource issue for the manufacturer. In addition, of course, there is the serious risk of reputational damage, after years of investment building the brand in the marketplace.
For the contractor and end user, there is the frustration, cost and lost time in dealing with equipment failure and trying to find the appropriate company with which to discuss it.
In the consumer market, the problem tends to be fairly black and white. Inferior copies of premium goods are simply mis-labelled with the all-important logo and sold in volume at bargain prices.
In the air-conditioning sector, the situation can be more complex. For example, a unit may contain a legitimate component and on the strength of it have a large logo emblazoned on the front of the equipment — suggesting that the whole unit was manufactured by a reputable manufacturer (albeit that there may be a tiny logo belonging to the actual manufacturer placed unobtrusively somewhere else on the kit).
While this perhaps stops short of gross misrepresentation, it is hard not to conclude that the effect on an unwary buyer is to give the impression that the unit has been manufactured by a reputable manufacturer — with all the warranty, reliability and quality assurance support that comes with it.
How widespread is the problem? We have identified a handful of manufacturers that have used this kind of practice. However, there are more than 20 suppliers and Internet-based companies selling such air-conditioning products into the UK market.
This is a significant supply channel and would account for the substantial volume of calls Toshiba have received, indicating a sizeable installed base in the market.
The route to market is often not through the legitimate trade, for obvious reasons. Installers and contractors familiar with genuine equipment would quickly spot the labelling ruse. Instead, it is often advertised on the Internet, through ebay, and also in electrical suppliers’ magazines.
From our follow-ups of distress calls, the main cause of equipment breakdown is electronics failure, followed by inadequate cooling or heating — most likely due to loss of refrigerant charge.
We are continuing to raise awareness of the problem, and have issued bulletins to customers advising them to look out for units masquerading as Toshiba. We are also assisting both environmental health and trading standards officers in their ongoing investigations.
We will continue to raise awareness and press for increased clarity on the part of suppliers in their advertising and promotional materials.
For the avoidance of doubt, Toshiba air-conditioning equipment in the UK is only supplied by Toshiba Carrier UK Ltd or our authorised distributors/wholesalers as identified on our website. Whatever it says on the outside, it is only made by Toshiba — and supported by us — if sourced through these channels.
David Dunn is general manager of Toshiba Air Conditioning.